Rights in Russia week-ending 5 November 2021

Our round-up of the week’s news

30 October 2021

RFE/RL: Russia on October 30 reported 40,251 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, its highest single-day case tally since the start of the pandemic. The government’s coronavirus taskforce reported 1,160 deaths related to the virus, three short of the daily record of 1,163 set the day before.

31 October 2021

RFE/RL: Two months after 20-year-old conscript Yegor Voronkin arrived at his post in the Murmansk region settlement of Pechenga, he was rushed to a hospital in the city of Severomorsk. For a month, he lay in a coma, fighting for his life. On October 5, he died, never having regained consciousness. The military’s preliminary finding states that Voronkin died of ethylene glycol poisoning after drinking hydraulic fluid in a suicide attempt. It is an explanation that Voronkin’s family flatly rejects. They say he had plans to complete his military service and then move to Moscow with his girlfriend.

1 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Monday confirmed 40,402 Covid-19 infections and 1,155 deaths.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Olga Smirnova, a political activist from St. Petersburg, has been charged with ‘justifying terrorism’ over a picket in defence of four recognized Crimean Tatar political prisoners from Alushta.  This is a frightening precedent since Russia is already abusing ‘terrorism’ legislation to target civic activists and ‘religious dissidents’ in occupied Crimea.  Now it has adopted the same weapon of persecution against those who protest against entirely fictitious terrorism charges.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The ‘judges’ who sentenced  Amet Suleimanov to 12 years’ harsh regime imprisonment on 29 October are well aware that the first months would likely kill him. They are doubtless equally aware why the civic journalist was targeted. In his final address to this Russian court on 27 October, Amet Suleimanov stated that “if  you ask me if I would behave differently if given the chance … I can confidently say that I would still  come to the searches carried out against my compatriots. I would provide coverage of  injustice; I would go to mosques, would sacrifice my time and property in order to help my neighbour. ..”’

The Guardian: Dmitry Davydov is the self-taught Russian director from the remote eastern republic of Sakha who has been gaining golden opinions on the festival circuit for his spare and fervent films, often using non-professional actors. Here is Davydov’s first feature, The Bonfire, from 2016, which is intriguing, if sometimes baffling in its stylistic variations. 

The Moscow Times: A recent leak at a pipeline owned by Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom pumped a huge cloud of potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, Bloomberg reported, citing satellite tracking data from geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS.

2 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Tuesday confirmed 39,008 Covid-19 infections and a new pandemic record of 1,178 deaths.

RFE/RL: The Russian authorities have detained three men suspected of illegally obtaining the personal data of Federal Security Service (FSB) agents whom jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has accused of being involved in his poisoning last year.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia’s Tatarstan region has sentenced a prominent Islamic scholar to 6 1/2 years in prison for running a branch of a banned religious group. Gabdrakhman Naumov was sentenced by a court in Kazan for leading a branch of the Islamic Nur movement, his lawyer Ruslan Nagiyev told RFE/RL on November 2.

RFE/RL: Ivan Safronov, a prominent former Russian journalist accused of high treason in a case widely considered to be politically motivated, has been additionally charged with passing classified information to a university in Switzerland and to Germany’s intelligence service. Safronov’s lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, said on November 2 that the new allegations were known only once his final accusation papers were submitted.

The Moscow Times: Prominent Russian ex-journalist Ivan Safronov faces new charges of treason, his former lawyer said Tuesday as reports indicated that authorities were wrapping up their investigation into his case. Though case materials are classified, investigators allege that NATO recruited Safronov in 2012 and that he passed secret information on Russia’s military activities in the Middle East and cooperation with African countries to Czech intelligence in 2017.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s Supreme Court will not hear the case of the surviving descendants of Stalin-era Gulag prisoners fighting for state compensation, according to a court database spotted by Russian media Tuesday. The dwindling group of so-called “Gulag Children” filed a class action lawsuit against Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, last week to demand the housing that is guaranteed to them under Russian law.

Human Rights in Ukraine: 19 Crimean Tatar men and women were detained on 1 November, including one journalist.  All of them were standing apart from one another outside the occupation Crimean Garrison Court, where the open appeal hearing was taking place against huge sentences imposed on three recognized political prisoners: Crimean Solidarity activist Rustem Emiruseinov; Arsen Abkhairov and Eskender Abdulganiev

The Moscow Times: Foreign tourists are canceling trips to Russia in droves over confusion surrounding digital coronavirus passes after current nationwide restrictions are lifted, the Russian Association of Tour Operators (ATOR) said Tuesday. ATOR head Maya Lomidze said foreign visitors vaccinated with non-Russian jabs are not allowed to visit popular tourist destinations like museums and theaters in certain cities. 

3 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday confirmed 40,443 Covid-19 infections and a new pandemic record of 1,189 deaths.

Amnesty International: Reacting to the news Dimitrovgrad City Court today dismissed a request by prison authorities to subject human rights activist Yan Sidorov to three years of harsh probation conditions upon his release today. Responding to the court’s decision, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director Natalia Zviagina said: “This is a huge and undeniable victory for Yan Sidorov, and for all those who have supported him through four years of politically motivated detention. We welcome the court’s decision to dismiss the deplorable attempt to impose further restrictions on Yan’s freedom – this must spell the end of the string of injustices he has been subjected to. Yan Sidorov should never have been imprisoned in the first place. He is a prisoner of conscience who has endured years of punishment simply for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly.”

RFE/RL: Ivan Safronov, a prominent former Russian journalist accused of high treason in a case widely considered to be politically motivated, has been placed in solitary confinement for allegedly violating the detention center’s internal regulations. A member of the Public Monitoring Commission in Moscow, Boris Klin, said on November 3 that Safronov was placed in the punitive isolation cell for three days for attaching a TV antenna to his cell’s wall to improve the quality of a television set, which is not allowed.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan has sentenced noted activist Ramila Saitova to three years in a colony settlement after finding her guilty of calling for extremist activities. The Kirov district court in Bashkortostan’s capital, Ufa, handed down the verdict and sentence on November 3. Judge Azamat Bikchurin also banned Saitova from being an administrator for any online social networks for two years.

RFE/RL:  A court in Siberia has sentenced an Orthodox priest to 10 days in jail — his sixth jail term — for publicly expressing support for the former governor of the Khabarovsk region, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested on murder charges that he and his supporters have rejected as politically motivated. Khabarovsk-based journalist Tatyana Khlestunova told RFE/RL on November 3 that a court in the Far Eastern city found Andrei Vinarsky guilty of repeatedly violating the law on mass gatherings.

RFE/RL: Noted Turkmen opposition activist Azat Isakov, who for several years has lived in Russia’s Moscow region, has been reported missing after mysteriously disappearing last month.

The Guardian: Gennadiy Shukin, Taymyr, Russia: I was born in 1962 in a family of deer herders in Taymyr, on a peninsula in the very far north of Russia. I am part of the Dolgan community: we are an indigenous Russian group and there are around 6,000 left of us living in the tundra. Growing up, the Soviet Union tried to deny us our traditional way of life, but since then climate change has become the biggest challenge to our survival.

4 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday confirmed 40,217 Covid-19 infections and a new pandemic record of 1,195 deaths.

The Guardian: Russia has expelled a Dutch reporter, his newspaper has said, as Moscow continues its crackdown on domestic and foreign journalists in the country. De Volkskrant journalist Tom Vennink said his visa was revoked and he was given three days to leave the country following difficulties renewing his journalist accreditation.

CPJ: The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Russian authorities today to reverse their decision to revoke Dutch journalist Tom Vennink’s visa and residence permit and allow him to continue his work in Russia.

RFE/RL: Two former inmates of the penal colony in Russia’s Vladimir region have described what they said were the penitentiary administration’s methods used to put pressure on jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. Nariman Osmanov and Yevgeny Burak told Dozhd TV in an interview broadcast on November 4 that the colony administration placed Navalny in a group of inmates that had been specially formed to deal with the opposition leader. According to Osmanov, all the inmates in the brigade had been instructed not to talk to Navalny and record each of his steps on a daily basis.

RFE/RL: Police in the Russian capital have detained nationalist activists ahead of an unsanctioned public event known as the Russian March that has been banned since 2019. Avtozak Live online news channel reported on November 4 that at least 18 people, including reporters with the Associated Press, RBK, and Izvestia, were detained by police at a subway station in Moscow.

5 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 40,735 Covid-19 infections and 1,192 deaths.

RFE/RL: Researchers say life expectancy in Russia fell by more than two years in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

RSF: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voices support for Sergey Savelyev, the whistleblower responsible for last month’s massive leak of videos exposing mistreatment, torture and sexual abuse in Russian prisons. The Russian authorities must drop all charges against this Belarusian citizen, who has fled to France, while the French authorities must grant his asylum request, RSF says.

RFE/RL: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging France to grant asylum to a Belarus-born man responsible for last month’s massive leak of videos exposing mistreatment, torture, and sexual abuse in Russian prisons.

RFE/RL: Amnesty International is calling on the Russian authorities to release an imprisoned environmental activist who led anti-landfill protests near Moscow in 2018. Vyacheslav Yegorov was sentenced last month to 15 months in prison on a charge of repeatedly violating regulations on holding public gatherings, and detained.

The Moscow Times: Moscow police arrested dozens of nationalists planning to hold the annual far-right Russian March in the Russian capital, the police-monitoring website OVD-Info reported Thursday. The ultra-nationalist Russian March has been held every Nov. 4, the day of Russia’s National Unity Day state holiday, with and without the authorities’ permission since 2005. That year, President Vladimir Putin created the holiday to replace commemorations of the Bolshevik Revolution.

RFE/RL: The Supreme Court of the Netherlands has overturned a $50 billion award that Russia had been ordered to pay the former majority shareholders of the dismantled oil giant Yukos, sending the case back to a lower appeals court.

RFE/RL: The wife of opposition figure Aleksei Tupitsin has suffered what he says doctors described as “a chemical poisoning,” which he believes was an attack likely aimed at him. Tupitsin told RFE/RL on November 5 that his wife, Vera Kuzakova, fell ill aboard a plane as the couple flew from Poland to the Siberian city of Irkutsk. According to the activist, during a stopover at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, the two drank some tea at a cafe before boarding a plane for the second leg of their journey. While in flight, Kuzakova’s body became covered with sores that resembled burns.

The Guardian: A Russian diplomat found dead near the country’s embassy in Berlin last month was an undercover intelligence agent, German media have reported. The news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Friday that police had recovered the body of a Russian diplomat who apparently fell from an embassy window, and that the man had been identified as a member of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s main intelligence and law enforcement agency. The death has not previously been reported. Der Spiegel said police had discovered the body near the embassy on 19 October and that emergency services were unable to resuscitate. The news outlet reported that German security sources were not sure of the cause of death and that the Russian embassy had not authorised an autopsy.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia’s Military Court of Appeal in Vlasikha has overturned a ruling which would have allowed Crimean political prisoner Oleksandr Sizikov to find out what exactly he is accused of.  The decision to translate the indictment and other material into Braille would, however, have highlighted the absurdity of this case in which the ‘evidence’ for the charges against Sizikov includes prohibited literature’ planted by the FSB which Sizikov could not possibly read. 

The Guardian: Police have launched a wave of investigations against young people, mainly women, in recent weeks for taking partially nude or sexually suggestive photographs next to Russian landmarks. At least four cases have been reported over the past week of police detaining, investigating or jailing Russians for photographs that have been posted online in front of the Kremlin walls, St Basil’s Cathedral, St Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg and an “eternal flame” dedicated to the history of the second world war. One couple has been sentenced to jail for 10 months for taking a photograph suggestive of oral sex in front of the distinctive onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

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